CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan -- On June 15, 1944, during World War II, the United States Marines, supported by the Army, landed on the beaches of Saipan. The Allied forces spent more than three weeks liberating the island from the Japanese.
More than 70 years later, the significance of that battle and the men who fought there continues to inspire a new generation who fill our ranks today.
Lance Cpl. Vincent T. Mereham was born and raised in a small village named Chalan Kanoa on the island of Saipan. His family of six lived just 100 yards off the coast in a three-bedroom house, making for a cramped living space.
From the start, life for his family was difficult, working hard for everything they had. Like a lot of the population in Saipan, Mareham fished for many of his meals.
“I lived not too far from the ocean,” said Mereham. “My uncles taught me to use my hands or a hook to catch octopus. That is how we ate every day.”
In between fishing and household chores, Mareham attended the local public school. It was during elementary school that he first learned about World War II.
Japanese troops occupied Saipan and Tinian, the Northern Mariana Islands, during World War II and used the islands as a launch point to capture Guam from the U.S. the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After retaking Guam in July 1944, the northern islands were identified as key terrain and once recaptured, they were used by the United States military as strategic air bases.
“(The Marines) went through hell to liberate my home; that’s why I wanted to join,” said Mereham. “I wanted to repay the Marine Corps.”
Mereham’s determination to become a Marine never wavered as he neared the age of eligibility. Barely into his junior year of high school, he sat across the desk from a Marine recruiter.
When posed with the choice of what he would like to do in the Marines, Mereham saw only one option.
“It was the grunts that went days without food, water and lost their brothers during the battle,” said Mereham. “For that reason, I enlisted as a rifleman. I wanted to live like they did and repay what I felt like was a debt.”
Stepping onto the fabled yellow footprints at Marine Corps recruit training in October of 2010, Mereham also took his first steps on continental American soil.
Mereham successfully completed training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, December 2010 and then graduated from the School of Infantry – West, April 2011.
His first assignment as a Marine infantryman was to 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., in September 2011.
Now serving with 2/1 as part of the Battalion Landing Team of the forward-deployed 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in Okinawa, Japan, Mereham feels he is coming closer to honoring the debt.
His unit is preparing to deploy in support of theater security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, training with allied nations and serving as a force in readiness for the area.
“Just being here in Japan with the 31st MEU and looking to deploy soon, I feel I am giving back to the old Marines that liberated my home,” said Mereham.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU, and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.